Spot Metering w/Natural Light

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by melissa_fogg, Nov 20, 2010.

  1. In natural light portraits, do you always spot meter off the skin? Just wondering what some of your personal techniques are.
  2. For natural light portraiture I wouldn't recommend spot metering, but rather... incident light metering.
  3. What about a gray card?
  4. If you tilt the grey card properly into the light, and spot meter off of that, you're basically doing an incident reading, with a spot meter.
    So, yeah that would work, just a bit awkward.
  5. Caucasian or Asian skin will "underexpose" by about a stop with spot metering. Medium to dark black or other darker heritage skin will possibly overexpose. Both because the meter (any reflective meter) is designed to translate everything it sees to 18 % reflectivity, just like the gray card.
    Brian is right, your best and easiest solution is the incident meter because it is interpreting the light falling on the subject, not the reflectivity of the skin.
    In a portrait situation, using the gray card is cumbersome. Very distracting the for the subject to handle the card for you and breaks your concentration away from the subject where it belongs, while you are having to fiddle with gear and calculations. Just use the incident meter, check it again only when you change sites and the light changes. Much easier and much more accurate.
  6. Sure it would work, but why bother? If one absolutely must spot meter (or any kind of reflective meter) a face, just do it but remember to adjust exposure for skin color -- e.g. one stop to correct for "normal caucasian skin". (As Tim L. said while I was typing.) It's a lot easier than fiddling with a gray card.
  7. Interesting. Just wondering what people generally do in their portrait situations. What abot like photo journalistic style
    (I'm pretty sure that's the term I'm looking for)when ur catching like more candid moments?
  8. I also prefer incident over spot for portraits. In steady-state lighting situations, I dial it in and leave it, checking exposure once in a while. In rapidly shifting lighting, I may resort to multi-pattern metering with some exposure comp added on.
  9. So, what kind of incident meter do you recommend?
  10. Melissa, Photojournalists would likely use reflective metering in their camera. Old timers would pull out their Gossen or Sekonic pocket incident meter. And studio guys, like myself, would probably use an incident meter with flash and reflective capabilities. The only time I use spot is for landscapes, and scenes where contrast control can be difficult with film. E.g., determining the neutral gray point (zone V) and seeing if the highlights and shadows are within 4 or 5 stops higher and lower, respectively, and where Zone VII-VII and Zone III are, to determine if there will be details in those highlight or shadow areas. If all I had were a spot meter, and shooting the subject in natural light, then I would have no problem with that, given you know what you want the skin tone to look like for a certain exposure.
  11. Melissa, are you shooting film?
  12. No sir I shoot digital
  13. In that case, I recommend not getting a hand-held light meter. Instead, use the camera's built-in meter, along with the histogram. Don't get me wrong, a hand-held meter is an essential tool for many situations, but in your case with natural light portraiture with a digital camera, it would be much faster and easier to use the built-in meter and histogram. I think a good search on "metering modes/techniques" and "understanding the histogram" will help you greatly.
  14. Melissa, if you use spot meter in your camera it is almost always off about a stop, which means that it overexposes the skin to the proper value. If you use the pro spot meter you should overxpose.
  15. Thanks B Christopher, I was kind of not wanting to buy one haha. I've actually done some reading on both those subjects, but I will definitely continue to read some more.
    And thanks everyone for your responses:)
  16. Histograms are particularly dangerous for portrait shooting. if your shot has rim lighting (outdoors) or a hair light in the studio, the ETTR technique will attempt to capture detail in that highlight when data isn't needed. The result will be to underexpose the face.
    If you are shooting a dark-skinned person in dark clothing against a dark background, ETTR with a histogram could cause overexposure. This problem could be fixed fairly effectively in post-processing if you shoot RAW, but heaven help you if you shot JPEG files.
  17. Haha, I definitely shoot raw!
  18. I would definitely use an incident meter. Without an incident meter you could spot meter the lighest part of the subjext's forehead and give it a +2 exposure for people with ligh skin and + 1 for people with dark skin.
  19. Average (non-tanned) caucasian skin meters around Zone VI and medium toned black skin around Zone IV. If you are only concerned with skin tones, then you would be ok to do do an incident reading. If you use a spotmeter to measure skin, then you would take a reading on caucasian skin and open one stop, for black skin, close down one stop. However, in outdoor portraiture, there are other considerations than just skin tone EV. Highlight and shadow areas must also be considered, and this is where a spot meter excels.
    If you are going to use a spotmeter, then I highly recommend you become acquainted with Ansel Adams' Zone System. A great book to get you started is Chris Johnson's book, The Practical Zone System. Although it is oriented toward the TRUE Zone System, which involves film exposure, processing and printing, it is still very useful for determining exposure in digital. I use it all the time.
  20. I actually read an article that was linked on here about the zone system, very interesting, and I will definitely check out that book. Thanks everyone for all your info! :)

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